LOS ANGELES - Wednesday started off optimistically for the Lakers, with Los Angeles starting 2024 on a five-game homestand starting with Miami, losers of two straight games and playing again without Jimmy Butler.
This looked like an easy game to win.
In the Chick Hearn Press Room, people covering the Heat talked about this being a "scheduled loss" a game on the calendar where defeat is inevitable based on circumstances beyond a team's control.
However, the Lakers proved that expecting them to perform well often leads to frustration, disappointment and confusion. They started this game like they've started most first quarters; badly, getting outscored 25-18 and committing 10 turnovers.
"Yeah, I think we shot ourselves in the foot the first quarter," Austin Reaves said during his postgame presser.
Darvin Ham tried to get the Lakers off on the right foot with a new starting five featuring Reaves, Cam Reddish, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Taurean Prince, but minus a nice start from Reaves where he had a hand in the team's first nine points, not much good happened for the purple and gold in the first 12 minutes.
To start the second, in desperation, looking for anyone to contribute, Ham went to Jalen Hood-Schifino, the Lakers rookie who hasn't played since Nov. 27 and gave him a shift.
It went how you would expect.
The moment was too much pressure for an inexperienced guard with no playing time and he went 0-4 from the field. One possession in the second perfectly demonstrated the Lakers' problems. James brought the ball up the floor and fed Hood-Schifino, who missed the layup near the basket. Christian Wood fired a runner that only hit the backboard, and then Hood-Schifino got blocked by Kevin Love. The Lakers recovered, but Max Christie missed the three at the top of the key and the ball went out of bounds. Possession Miami.
The crowd began to boo as frustration continued to rise on the floor, the bench and inside the stadium.
The Lakers were playing badly, but Miami wasn't doing much better. They were shooting 41% from the field at halftime and led by just eight. L.A. lingered all game but never took the lead and wasted another Davis masterclass. He ended the night with 29 points and 17 rebounds.
As the crowd emptied and the Heat fans began taking over the stadium in the closing seconds, you could feel the tension in the air. James looked, at times, frustrated and disinterested. It wasn't just body language or other social cues. He played poorly on Wednesday, scoring just 12 points despite playing 38 minutes.
After the game, for only the second time this season— the first time being the Lakers' win against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28, James didn't speak to the media.
LeBron James is not speaking to the media tonight, per the Lakers— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) January 4, 2024
After a lengthy wait before reaching the podium postgame, Ham spoke about the unusual delay and the temperature in the locker room.
"Guys are disappointed," Ham said. "Nobody wants to come out here on their home floor and get beat and not play well. And that's the other thing, we need guys to play better. We got to attack and be more competitive, but we need guys to step up and play better. The reason we signed them is because we know what they can do, and so you got to come with that confidence each and every night and you got to fight through it. Things not going your way. You can't ball up in the corner somewhere and go cry about it. You got to step up and try to see how can you best assist your team in being successful.
“If it's not the main thing you do, then you go look for something else to do. But all the while, your mind has to be focused on moving forward through the game and trying to get better and get stronger as the game gets longer."
Reaves is one of the few players, if not the only player not named James or Davis, that has been consistently good this season. He didn't mince words either about how things were in the locker room after this loss.
"S-----. We're losing," Reaves said. "Anytime you lose, the vibe should be off. If I went in there and the vibe wasn't off after the rough stretch that we've had, I'd be concerned, that's really it. I don't expect for us to be happy with how we've played. So until we figure that out, the vibe should be off. We got to win games."
At 17-18, the Lakers haven't been winning games. They have both stars healthy and playing consistently at a top level, but still can't win regardless of the competition. They've hit rock bottom. Or have they?
What happens if they lose more games during this homestand? If more injuries come their way? How bad will things get and what can be done to fix it? Is a trade the only way to fix what's wrong? Is coaching an area to look at? Or is it the roster construction at its core that is flawed?
2024 begins with the same questions 2023 ended with and everyone is still searching for answers, but all we have right now are losses.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.